A Conversation with Ken Wapnick: Just don’t justify it!

Ken OFFICIAL photoI recently sat down again to interview Ken Wapnick while attending a weeklong Academy class at the Foundation for a Course in Miracles in Temecula, California. I am still processing the deeply helpful and healing messages from the week in which Ken emphasized, among other great themes, the importance of shifting the purpose of the seemingly specific issues that appear to arise in our lives from strengthening the ego’s lie of separation realized to returning us to the decision-making mind and choosing to look with the teacher of gentle forgiveness. Asking ourselves from moment to moment whether siding with this feeling, judgment, thought will further the goal of healing our split mind or plunge us more deeply into the dream of exile from all-inclusive love. A no-brainer of a practice, really—pun intended! 🙂

In this conversation, Ken talks about the idea that we all carry imaginary “grab bags” filled with the problems, memories, and grievances we use to justify our belief that we exist separately but it’s not our fault. When the unconscious guilt in our mind over believing we pulled off the separation from God builds up, we deny responsibility for it by reaching into our grab bag for something to blame (project) it on. Forgiveness of what never was is really a process of learning to recognize we’re never upset because of what’s in our grab bag. We’re upset because we chose to side with the inner teacher of guilty separation over the inner teacher of innocent love.

Ken also talks here about the importance of learning to be patient with ourselves and trust that healing is happening, even when we’re not feeling a sense of peace. We should not underestimate the depth of our unconscious fear of returning to the mind, or our attraction to blaming outside circumstances for an inner condition. We should try to gently allow ourselves to be where we are in the process of undoing without judging or indulging ourselves. Simply watching how difficult we find it to refrain from completing the sentence “I’m upset because of ____________” with an external cause.

As always, I am deeply grateful for Ken’s clear, consistent, inspiring teaching, unwavering kindness, and enlightening presence.

I’ve been having a tumultuous time in a special relationship and it was helpful to me when you asked me what my life would be like without this relationship. In considering that question I came to see that the lack of peace I was feeling was not because of the relationship. It existed before the relationship. I was just blaming the relationship for that inner state.

It was in your grab bag.

Yes. Today in class was the first time I heard you use that analogy but it’s really helpful and true. The way we reach into our bag of tricks for the chronic problems we use to make the dream of separation real. So understanding that my lack of peace does not come from this person in my grab bag but from my mind has helped me a lot. It’s really exposed how much neediness I have and how upset I am that my needs aren’t getting met. So I’m seeing the relationship less and less as the cause for my distress but I still feel reactive, even though I don’t act on it. It’s getting very tiring. Do you have some advice for those of us who are riding it out; seeing that the relationship is not the cause of the problem but still unable to feel peace?

As I was saying this morning, the key thing is really to understand that the problem is not the presenting symptom whether it’s about a child or a difficult marriage or a health or vocational issue. That’s not the issue and as quickly as possible you want to get to the real issue which is that I’m not at peace because of a decision I’ve made, not because of the person I’m living with or my children or my health, etc. And you know, basically, that’s all we’re asked to do. When the Course talks about a little willingness it’s really the willingness to examine what’s really going on, to look at the problem as it is and not the way I set it up.

So riding it out means you do your part and then you wait. It’s almost like you’re in an orchestra and you wait for the conductor to give the downbeat. You don’t start playing until it’s the right time, until the conductor tells you to. It’s not that Jesus or Holy Spirit is orchestrating our lives but timing (in music and life) is everything. So you do your best to remain peaceful in the situation, and then you trust. And the trust gets stronger and stronger that you will hear a signal if there is something you need to do behaviorally. Obviously as persons, as bodies, we have to do something. If you’re in a relationship that’s difficult you may have to make a decision whether to leave or stay which will lead to other steps.

The idea is to trust that there’s a process you’re not in charge of. And then as long as you can stay peaceful and right-minded–which means you don’t judge, you don’t justify it–you’ll know. But again, since I always think musically, it’s really trusting that when the conductor signals the time, you’ll be there and then take the next step. You know the workbook lesson “I will step back and let him lead the way?” Well, stepping back means I just take care of my mind. I withdraw my projections. It’s not I will step back from my ego but I will step back from my projections and stop attributing them to outside causes. And then trust that the answer will come.

I’m having more success with trusting but I guess I get frustrated or sometimes feel like I’m doing something wrong because I don’t always feel peace, or I feel it only very temporarily. I’m watching and not justifying it but I don’t feel loving and that makes me feel guilty. I guess I wish I could feel the release. I still feel judgmental internally, even though I know it’s not justified.

I think that’s normal. But you want to try not to act on it.

And so you trust that the healing is happening even though you’re not necessarily feeling it.

You know the Course says readiness is not mastery. You don’t have to be perfectly ready. You don’t have to have mastered something to be ready for it. You don’t have to be perfect.

Well, that’s a huge relief! 🙂

To the extent you can, try not to justify projections, that’s all. The other thing as I say often is going back to the lessons again, lesson 5, “I’m never upset for the reason I think,” and lesson 34, “I could see peace instead of this.”

That’s so helpful. And so, you’re saying the undoing is happening even though I don’t feel it.

Yes. And it’s just about trusting that.

What I’ve really noticed at times is a real sense of this void. Because all the roles that used to seem so important to me—mother, wife, writer, daughter, A Course in Miracles student and teacher–feel empty and unstable at times. I don’t think I was aware of that void before the Course. I think it’s that original sense of being thrust into the void by our belief in separation from our source taken seriously. There are times when I feel a real sense of panic around this. Does that make any sense?

It does. I think what you describe is really everyone’s problem. You know what (the Course calls) specialness comes from a perceived lack within yourself, a sense of something missing. And so you want to fill it up and you fill it up with all your various roles in the world. And that’s the lie. The lie that I feel empty because I chose to separate from the everything. And rather than accept that’s what I’ve done and then do something about it I then justify the projection. The problem is that we reach into the grab bag for something to fill us up and we justify it and argue for it when the real problem is I’m empty inside and nothing out there will fill me.

I feel like I go to grab something in the grab bag and I can’t hold onto it. I don’t have the energy for it, the faith in it anymore. I know it’s not going to work. So that’s just part of the disillusionment maybe that motivates us to ask for a better way?

Yes, that’s like a transition period where now you see through the ego but you’re still not ready to accept something better about yourself. It’s the idea that the Course keeps telling us we’re first-class citizens and we keep wanting second-class citizenship. To be a Son of God means that you’re not second-class, you’re first-class and you don’t have this emptiness.

Thank you. The next question is around that whole idea of specialness. I’m aware of it now both in my craving for attention, approval, support, all this neediness, and then also the flip side, the need to have things attack me and fail me so I can justify being a victim. I know it’s causing me pain but when I think about the Course’s teaching that we can’t awaken as individuals–I can’t awaken as Susan–I get panicky. So it seems to me that I should just focus on forgiving what seems to be in my face from moment to moment. Even though we have to keep the metaphysics in our peripheral vision, in practice we can’t deal with the everything.

Right. You just deal with whatever’s coming up. But you need to know the metaphysics because that’s what gives you a basis for wanting to forgive, for wanting to let go of your projections. You need to understand where this practice is going but you don’t need to analyze all that. In a sense when you’re working with your projections you want to come from the perspective that the relationship is already healed, you just need to catch up with it. Healing doesn’t mean that you stay together with someone necessarily but it means that in your mind it’s already healed because you reach a place of peace with it. You know you’re already there but you think you’re here and so you go along here while a part of you knows it’s already over, healed, and completed. And that’s really helpful.

Is that part of the tiredness that I feel? All the effort it takes to try to make it real again when in truth it’s already over?

Yes. You don’t have to fix your relationship with your child or your body or your husband or your job; you just have to reach peace within yourself. And then out of that, you’ll know what to do.

I have a couple of questions coming from other Course students and one of them is about The Test of Truth section in Chapter 14 where it says “if all those who meet or even think of you share in your perfect peace, then you can be sure that you have learned God’s lesson and not your own. Unless all this is true, there are dark lessons in your mind that hurt and hinder you and everyone around you …” If I take this literally, looking at the way in which a special relationship still seems to be blaming me, for example, it must mean I’m still projecting. Most of the Course talks about how you only have to deal with your own mind but this seems to suggest that somehow we know that our mind is healed because of how others behave. Can you explain what this means?

That’s come up a lot over the years. I think it’s helpful to think about Jesus, how people were not peaceful around him in the biblical stories. And what I’ve always said is that the reason they would attack him was because of that perfect peace. They sensed the perfect peace, they just didn’t accept it. Their lack of peace didn’t diminish his or him; they reacted because they sensed something different about him.

Something threatening to the ego.


So just as the Course always says, we’re not responsible for anyone else’s ego attack or reactions, just our own?

Yes. And there is also, of course, implied in that that if I’m not judging people, that’s the state of peace. It’s really describing how the peaceful person is.

So I wouldn’t be perceiving others reactions as real or personal or attacking?


I know the Course is always talking about changing the mind, not the body, but this is another question that keeps coming up with students. If the human body’s inevitable deterioration and death “prove” the ego’s lie that we pulled off the separation from God, does healing the body “prove” it never happened/correct that belief?  Is it ever beneficial to our atonement path to look to physical miracles?

All that does is make the body real. If you know you’re not a body what difference does it make if your body has cancer or a broken toe? It’s a very subtle way of making the world real and then trying to prove the Course is true because something’s happening in form. And that’s very dangerous because it’s real purpose is to make the body real.

And if the body’s real, the one mind is not?


This is another question about resistance. Sometimes it feels like my resistance to the Course grows in direct proportion to my attraction to the memory of real, whole Love in the right mind. So I’m stuck going back and forth from the kindness of the right mind to the viciousness of the ego. I know you say a lot that you can tell you’re making progress with the Course when you recognize the Course is talking to you as a decision maker, not a personal self. I do realize that. But I just wonder if I’ll ever stop flip-flopping. I mean, how much longer do I need to keep doing this?


You’re not going to answer that are you? Not even if I say please?

I think what’s helpful is to remember that line in the Course I always quote. You need to look at the problem as it is and not the way you set it up. The problem as it is is you’re afraid.  You’re afraid of love, afraid of losing control, afraid of losing yourself. That’s the problem. And then you realize your resistance is a way of kind of protecting yourself, of not wanting to let yourself go. So you want to be aware of that, but if you find yourself going on and on and nothing’s changing it’s obvious that you’re just too afraid. So just be gentle with yourself. And again, have faith in the outcome.

You know, when I write an article for the newsletter it’s not like I sit down and write it. I know the article’s already written and I just have to find the different pieces and put it together like a jigsaw puzzle.  And so I don’t write it straight through. I write a part here, I get a part there; I’m taking a walk and I get a thought and write that. It’s like finding another piece of the jigsaw puzzle and then another. There’s a jigsaw puzzle somewhere that already has a completed picture.

And so, using that analogy, there’s a part of your script in which you’ve found peace in this relationship no matter how it ends up in form and you kind of know that and trust it. And if a lot of time seems to take place before something happens and you don’t feel that peace then you have to say to yourself, I’m just afraid of it. And that’s it. There’s nothing else you need to do. Just be gentle, know you’re afraid right now but you’ll find the pieces eventually, and don’t make up stories.

OK. I’ve been listening to a lot of what you’ve been saying about personal needs and putting others first in our relationships as a correction for always making it all about me. But I was taught to always put others first and it’s hard for me to tell the difference between when I’m being needy and when it’s OK to say no.

Well you can’t deny the needs you have but you don’t have to justify them. It’s the same thing with anger. You’re learning to say I’m not angry because this person cut me off in traffic or this person disappointed me in a relationship or said something unkind to me but because I chose to feel guilty and now I’m projecting that on you. It’s the same thing with needs. I have a need that comes from my choice for guilt that I’ve projected on you. If I could choose for the love of God all the time I wouldn’t need to have this or that or do this or that. But that’s really harsh and it’s the wrong emphasis. It’s better to just accept where you are and just try to be peaceful.

And remind myself again that I’m never upset for the reason I think?


You’ve also been talking a lot about being kind to everyone and everything. I got bit by a spider in my house recently and it was kind of a venomous bite and ended up causing some bad symptoms. Before that I’d tried to be kind to spiders by capturing the ones I found in the house and releasing them back outside but now I’m reexamining that policy. So if you have to kill something, how do you do it without malice, without reinforcing the thought of good and bad, the idea of differences arising from the idea of separation?

Kill the spider–get an exterminator if you have to. That’s another example of what we say about just being normal. But try to do it without anger. Some people could be able to talk to the spider and the spider would leave. But if that’s not going to work, kill the spider and don’t be angry about it, don’t feel guilty about it, try not to be vicious about it. You can talk to the spider, you can tell it you’re sorry, whatever works. Be normal, but be as kind and gentle as possible in the process.

I chose to get really sucked into the presidential campaign four years ago and pretty much threw the Course’s forgiveness teaching out the window for a couple of months at least in this area of my life. I recognize that hurt me, and I recently noticed myself at it again, getting pulled in again around the presidential race this year. I really don’t want to do the same thing this time around. How can Course students on both sides of the aisle stay right-minded during the campaign this fall?

There’s nothing wrong with supporting a candidate, working for that candidate, or voting for that candidate as long as you do it with dignity. You don’t have to be part of the mud-slinging that goes on. It’s also OK not to get involved. There’s no right or wrong and you are not better by choosing to participate or not participate. You can participate in any form including a war without losing your dignity, without losing your sense of true self, without losing your inner peace, and without making it about one or the other. Even though in an election one wins and the other loses, you don’t have to identify with that.

You know you’ve heard me talk about the difference between preferences and investments. You can have a preference that a certain candidate wins but you don’t have to have an investment in the outcome. You don’t give up the Course or practicing forgiveness while you’re supporting them and you don’t blame people who think differently. You do what feels right to do but there has to be a part of you that knows there are no differences in truth. You can play in the game of form in the dream without playing in the game of content, the belief in the ego thought system of sin, guilt, and fear arising from the mistaken belief in separation in the mind.

You can still see peace instead of this and be kind to everyone involved?


Renowned Psychologist, Teacher, and Author Kenneth Wapnick, PhD, has been studying, teaching, and writing about A Course in Miracles since 1973, and worked closely with Course Scribe Helen Schucman and Collaborator Bill Thetford in preparing its final manuscript. With his beloved wife, Gloria, he is president and co-founder of The Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM) in Temecula, California.

I am offering a workshop in ACIM’s forgiveness here in Denver Saturday, October 6, 2012: CLASS SIZE LIMITED AND PREREGISTRATION IS REQUIRED. Please click here for more information.


  1. What a superb interview… like all the rest! 🙂 Thanks, Susan! It’s all helpful; the one part that stood out for me is the reminder that we’re all First Class, despite what those dualistic airlines (in my mind) say. 🙂

  2. I think you did a great job on this interview with Ken Wapnick. Thank you for sharing it. I just got on your updates list and will be back to read more.

  3. Thank you, Todd.
    Ken is so clear and helpful to us all!

  4. LaVerne Hughes says:

    Thank you so much. I really needed these words from you and Kenneth today. His spirit spoke to me today and answered me for he is no longer a body but with God. I am projecting problems with my relationship with my daughter who is bipolar. I understand now it is not her but me and that we are both already healed. God is all there is and we are all one, not matter what the form. Thanks again for the Truth.

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